Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of spreadsheets but not everything can be solved by a great spreadsheet.
Medical practices across the country are tackling some of the most complex processes by using spreadsheets and it makes sense: they are flexible, customizable, and low cost.
But there are some things that don’t belong in spreadsheets, no matter how much you might want to put them there.
A spreadsheet is a very effective tool for solving certain types of problems.
When you think about spreadsheets, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s numbers and formulas. Maybe you’re imagining a colorful grid of cells with all sorts of information.
Well, you’d be right on both counts! Spreadsheets are great tools for recording data in an organized way. They let us model linear processes, perform simple calculations and generate streamlined reports, charts and graphs based on our datasets.
I’ve also seen teams use spreadsheets for managing large amounts of information. For example, some people (myself included) used a spreadsheet to try to house a provider and insurance payer enrollment information for multiple individuals to work from. As the tool is adopted and scales, teams begin creating separate tabs for each person or project they were working on. This quickly became challenging because there were so many tabs to scroll through and it became confusing.
When you try to build structure and process out of a spreadsheet, it becomes unwieldy very quickly. Spreadsheets are not designed for complex processes. The more complex the process, the more difficult it is to use effectively in a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets can be useful for simple processes, but they are not designed to handle complexity of real-world business and clinical processes well.
Spreadsheets may be great at handling linear processes — but real-world business and clinical processes are often highly nonlinear.
You’ve probably been in a situation where an organization isn’t ready to adopt a newly mapped out process. Think about all the implementations you have encountered – how often were those go-lives delayed? One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that many designed processes have become too linear and sequential. They depend on one phase being completed before another can begin. This makes sense when we’re talking about building a house or manufacturing cars; these activities are linear processes with clearly defined start points, end points and steps along the way to get there. However, most organizational processes don’t follow linear logic. In nonlinear processes, we see a lot of different scenarios that can happen within the same process. In healthcare, we see this a lot which adds to the complexity of running a practice.
If you’re reading this, your business or clinical environment will likely contain many nonlinear processes. Think about physician onboarding: there are a series of steps, as well as specific information that practices need to onboard a physician, but typically practices run into unforeseen hiccups with insurance payers that delay the process or require additional information.
Processes like these, that are not linear, can be difficult to model and organize in a spreadsheet because they often involve many variables and complex relationships that aren’t easily expressed with numbers.
If you’re new to this kind of process, it may seem like a good idea to start off using a spreadsheet — but if you do so, you will soon find yourself banging your head against the wall as your data becomes more and more unmanageable. Eventually some poor soul (probably yourself) will have to spend hours wading through, reorganizing, and cleaning up data before it’s usable again.
Complexity requires purpose-built systems to model.
If you’re trying to work a complex process, don’t try to force a spreadsheet to work. The effort required is just too much when purpose-built systems exist that can do that work for you. Spreadsheets are great for simple problems—like calculating monthly revenue—but they’re not good at organizing complex processes into a working tool.
As your healthcare organization grows, you quickly outgrow spreadsheets and need something better suited to handle this kind of work.
It’s not that spreadsheets are bad, they are really great for what they are designed for. They’re just not suited to everything. If you’re trying to model a complex system, or if you need a tool with flexible options for changing the structure of your data, consider using another type of software instead.
Have an unruly spreadsheet process that is in desperate need of an upgrade? Contact H3 to talk about our customizable solutions you can implement today.